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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Auto recycling ultimate environmental choice

Mention auto recycling and most people still conjure up the old ‘junkyard dog’ image.

“Nothing could be further than the truth,” says Wally Dingman of Caughill Auto Wreckers.

Caughill Auto is a member of the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association (OARA), a group of industry members spreading that message through the rebranding of recycled auto parts under the moniker of Green Parts.

“It really is a more accurate name for what we offer here.” said Dingman.

“Cars are seen as this horrible enemy of the environment, but when they’re handled properly, they’re about the greenest consumer products out there.”

More than 80 per cent of a vehicle by weight is reused, re-manufactured or recycled in some way.

Tanks, batteries and tires are removed and are recycled, reused or disposed of appropriately. Parts are carefully removed, cleaned and tested for resale. Each part is tagged, coded and computerized before it is properly stored.

The unusable portion of the vehicle is then crushed and shredded, and then the salvaged ferrous and non-ferrous metals are separated and reused to make new cars and other products. And the cycle starts again.

“The real problems happen when a car isn’t handled properly.” warns Dingman.

“There are good operators and bad ones in this business. The bad ones just strip off the most profitable parts, and then send the rest for crushing. They don’t bother removing the batteries, the oil, fluids, refrigerants or mercury switches. The soil and groundwater gets contaminated and all that toxic stuff just makes its way into the lakes and rivers and air. It’s an environmental nightmare.”.

Only about 10 per cent of all end-of-life vehicles end up with responsible operators, he says.

Licensing could clean up the industry. A major part of the Green Parts initiative is the development of a code of environmental practice that they would like to see become law.

“Most people are surprised that auto recycling in Ontario is pretty much unregulated. There are some municipal bylaws in place, but for the most there are no overall standards. If you've got a tow truck and a cell phone and can pay cash for cars, no one is really stopping you from that," says Steve Fletcher, the association's Executive Director.

“There is a lot of investment in facilities and extra labour required to handle cars in an environmentally responsible way. Our members do that voluntarily. But our position is that it should be required of every operator in the province. There’s too much at stake to leave it to chance."

So is the Green Parts program resulting in more sales for Caughill Auto Wreckers?

“That’s hard to pinpoint. We’re definitely busier than a year ago, but that could be due to the economy. Green parts are a great way to save money. We do know that there are consumers out there that consciously make environmentally friendly choices,” says Dingman. Regardless of the economic benefits, he says he wouldn’t do business any other way.

“It’s just the right thing to do."

That, he said, makes the extra cost and effort worthwhile.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Plastic Sits Between Opportunities and Challenges

The struggling economy of the last several months may have slowed the momentum of recycling automotive plastics in North America, but panelists at the Plastics Roundtable of the 2009 ISRI Commodities Roundtable Forum said there are still long-term factors working in favor of increased activity in that sector.

Panelist Sassan Tarahomi of International Automotive Components, Dearborn, Mich., provided an overview of the current use of recycled-content resins in the automotive sector.

Tarahomi said the list of recycled-content resins now accepted by auto manufacturers has grown throughout the decade, and that numerous types of components in the exterior, interior and underneath the hood of vehicles are manufactured using recycled-content resins.

The components are made from a range of resin types, including polypropylene, nylon, polyethylene and thermoplastic olefin resins. Resins are matched with the component or application depending on properties such as temperature ductility, impact resistance and scratch resistance.

While marketers may be attracted to the notion that “green” is “in,” engineers are not typically as swayed by that, said Tarahomi. His advice for recyclers and compounders who have developed a recycled-content resin or product is that automotive engineers want to know about its properties first and foremost. Only after that discussion is held is it the time to mention that it’s a recycled-content resin, he commented.

Tarahomi noted that with its end-of-life vehicle recycling mandates, European vehicles remain ahead in terms of recycled-content plastic components, although what has been learned in Europe can be applied to the North American market.

The high cost of oil, in terms of both the "light-weighting" of vehicles and the desire to recapture the petrochemicals in plastic scrap, is a factor that could abet automotive plastics recycling in the future, added Tarahomi.

Panelist David Raney of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Torrance, Calif., offered remarks on the prospects for recycling plastics collected from the post-shredder residue stream.

He noted that barriers include identifying constituent plastics and removing unwelcome chemicals that are present in the residue stream. Raney indicated that technological progress has been made on these fronts, but performing both tasks cost-effectively on a high-volume basis remains a barrier.

Raney offered hope in the form of the mercury switch removal program that featured cooperation from several links in the supply chain. Studying the residue stream and how to best harvest it can benefit from a similar cooperative effort, he told attendees.

Raney and Tarahomi, as well as moderator Ron Sherga of Sherresults LLC, Fort Worth, Texas, agreed that the wider plastics and chemical industry has demonstrated considerable willingness to research plastics recycling, but that it also points to cost-effectiveness, logistics and supply limitation issues as challenges that cannot be ignored.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Auto Drainage Systems

Automobiles are awash in fluids. Start with the gasoline or diesel fuel that powers the engine. Add the engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, power-steering fluid, and brake fluid that keep everything running smoothly. And don’t forget air conditioner refrigerant and windshieldwasher fluid. Before auto dismantlers and recyclers relieve vehicles of their resalable parts and log, crush, bale, or shred them, they must remove and capture every one of those fluids. And, given tighter regulations and the rising value of recycled fluids, their work needs to be good to the last drop.

Legal requirements for fluid removal vary. The regulations primarily focus on preventing the direct release of fluids into the environment and what happens with the fluids once they’re extracted. “As long as you’re not spilling [them] on the ground, there are no specific rules,” says a representative of one auto drainage system. Canada and the states of New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, California, and Oregon have some of the strictest containment regulations in North America; other states have recommended practices or guidelines. For example, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s Auto Recycling Industry Compliance Guide is specific about the area in which to drain fluids: It should be covered, with a sealed concrete-pad surface. About the draining process itself, the guide is less explicit: “Use fluid removal and handling equipment, such as suction systems, drain racks, and/or funnels and stoppers for the containers.”

Over the years, dismantlers and recyclers have devised a variety of ad hoc techniques to extract fluids from vehicles quickly, “everything from building their own frame to puncturing gas tanks with a knife on a stick and catching the gas in a barrel,” says Ronda Collier, marketing director for 360° Resource (Eau Claire, Mich.), maker of Auto Tap. These companies “rely on gravity, buckets, drums, and often self-built tools to drain some of their liquids, often in dangerous ways,” says Michael Hoeher, director of business development, North America, for SEDA Environmental (St. Petersburg, Fla.). “Antiquated—but, unfortunately, still widely used— methods include puncturing fuel tanks with pickaxes” or using a forklift to drop the scrap car onto a brass-spiked bathtub, he says.

Such do-it-yourself draining creates substantial risks, however. Fuel tanks can catch fire or explode from nearby sparks or ignition sources, and heavier-than-air gas fumes can coagulate into highly flammable pools. Workers might get drenched with fuel or stumble on a slippery floor, resulting in injury and employee turnover, not to mention potential litigation. Further, contaminated fluids lose their resale value, and the cost to properly dispose of them can be high. Over the last decade or so, a few companies have created what they believe is a better way to drain fluids from an end-of-life vehicle.

An automobile fluid drainage system should allow workers to operate quickly and safely, collect each fluid separately for disposal or reuse, and comply with applicable local, state, and federal regulations. Most of today’s systems allow a single operator to do all of those things in a space of roughly 40 feet by 60 feet. Some systems are stationary; others can be moved around a yard, typically with a forklift. These systems differ most pointedly in three areas: vehicle access, draining process, and disposition of fluids.

Access to most fluids is from below the vehicle, so before anybody drains anything, workers must mount the vehicle on some kind of rack to get access to the underside. A forklift deposits cars on the Enviro-Rack by Iron Ax (Wadley, Ga.), which gives operators safe access to the vehicle along grated catwalks. The adjustable rack can accommodate any size of vehicle, tilting left or right to drain fluids at the side of a tank. Superior Recycling Solutions (Binghamton, N.Y.) extols the virtues of its “tilt-and-roll” fluid recovery lift. Becky Brechko, director of sales and marketing, explains that with other racks, when the forklift removes the car after draining, it tilts the vehicle and additional fluids run out onto the ground. “We came up with something [to] do that while [the car] was still on the rack and contain that fluid,” she says. The hydraulically operated rack can lift, tilt, and roll vehicles to any of five positions.

The scissor lift by Crow Environmental (Ipswich, England) gives dismantlers the option of raising the vehicle to a variety of heights. A forklift loads the vehicle first onto a heavy-duty frame built around the lift, which “protects the lift from heavy-handed loading and unloading,” says Crow President David Pinner. Workers can get under the hood and drain tanks in the engine bay, then they elevate the lift to get underneath the vehicle. “The scissor lift allows you to do both those things in one operation, without having a forklift truck move [the vehicle] halfway through,” Pinner says. “It doesn’t matter whether the [worker] is 5-foot tall or 6-foot-6—he can set the height of the vehicle at the appropriate working height for him.”

Manufacturers have devised equally unique and innovative techniques for penetrating fluid tanks and extracting fluids. Auto Tap does it with its Auto Point Probe, a pyramidshaped, anti-spark brass spike hydraulically inserted into each tank. “It rips a 3-inch hole in the gas tank and makes it like a funnel, so you don’t have those hidden spots where gas can hide out,” Collier says. “It drains the tank thoroughly.” For maximum leak protection, Iron Ax’s drill and funnel are a single unit, which catches the liquids flowing from fluid reservoirs. It’s a totally air-powered system, with no gas or electric motor to create sparks, the company notes.

To drain top-end fluids, SRS’ Rapid 45 Fluid Suction System uses airactivated guns that closely resemble .45 automatic pistols. The guns’ nozzles are color-coded for each tank or fluid, be it antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, or brake fluid. The gun is “designed to be fun yet ergonomically friendly, easy to hold onto, and push-button activated, so there’s no flipping switches or running back and forth between the vehicle and the pumps,” Brechko says. Afterward, technicians go underneath to cut hoses and drain the remaining fluids into a single catch basin.

SEDA uses UL-listed, explosion-proof, double-diaphragm compressed-air pumps to create powerful suction. The pumps create a vacuum that evacuates the gas, separates contaminated from reusable gas, and filters the remaining gas to gas-station quality with a minimum of overflow.

AutoDrain (Leeds, England) offers low-volume customers a vacuum-based system and higher-volume yards a combination of vacuum- and pump-based systems. “It’s a sealed system,” explains Mark Drake, sales manager. “It seals against the tank and actually sucks the vapor and the fuel directly away to the storage tank, so there is no risk of any fire.” Disposition. Whether fluids are pumped, suctioned, or drained by gravity, they have to go into some kind of container for storage, resale, or disposal. Iron Ax funnels fluids into four separate all-steel collection tanks, for oil, gasoline, transmission fluid, and antifreeze. The system avoids spills with a dual catch-pan system—a 249-gallon catch pan directly below the vehicle and a 360gallon lower tank for spills.

Fluids captured in SRS catch basins flow into an oil/antifreeze separator. “It all happens automatically,” Brechko says. “Nobody touches any fluids, nobody moves any buckets [or] 50-gallon drums, nothing.” When fluids in the separator get high enough, float switches in the separator activate a pump that automatically dispatches each one to its final storage destination.

Crow Environmental’s high-volume system pumps all fluids directly into separate tanks. The system has three fuel tanks—for gasoline, diesel, and “dirty” (polluted) fuels—that reside just outside the drainage facility. Fuels sent to the gasoline or diesel tanks pass through a filter that catches particles as small as 5 microns and removes water. These tanks come with electric dispensing pumps, Pinner says, and “fuels stored in the gasoline or diesel tank are directly reusable by the client in his own vehicles.” Other fluids go to tanks for engine oils, hydraulic oils, coolants, and windshield-wiper fluid.

The vehicle draining system universe is new and small enough to have relatively few players. Here, in alphabetical order, are six top manufacturers and descriptions of their products.

AutoDrain. “Depending on the size of the business, we’re building bespoke [custom-made] equipment for different types of vehicle dismantlers or scrap metal processing yards,” says Mark Drake, sales manager of AutoDrain, which also runs its own auto drainage and dismantling facility in Leeds, England. The company’s vacuum systems and pumps suck liquids and vapors into specialized tanks. The firm offers single, twin, and custom lifts; an AutoShear, which snips off catalytic converters; and an airbag tool that detonates airbags in place.

No adaptations are required for North American customers, Drake says. Costs range “from around $700 for a simple brake fluid suction vessel to $100,000 for an all-singing, alldancing depollution system for 200 cars a day,” he says. “Most customers fall somewhere in between.” Visit

Auto Tap. Randy Schlipp, the owner of Randy’s Recycling yards in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, invented Auto Tap in the mid-1990s. Instead of using air compressors (which tend to freeze during cold Midwestern winters), Auto Tap hydraulically powers the Auto Point Probe, an anti-spark brass pyramid that “taps” 3-inch, funnel-shaped holes in each tank. Auto Tap platforms come in two varieties: those that remain stationary or within one yard and portable, rolloff models that can serve several yards. All of their “junkyard-tough” units are built to customer specifications, with modifications to comply with state regulations. Basic units cost around $30,000; options such as catalytic converter covers, pan covers, and bolt-on steps can bring the price up to $42,500. Visit 360_resource/autotap.html.

Crow Environmental. This British firm’s system uses air-operated diaphragm pumps with color-coded controls. “Simple symbols show their operations to make [it] as easy as possible,” Pinner says. The pumps distribute fluids to six tanks installed away from the extraction facility itself. The tanks hold gasoline, diesel fuel, polluted fuels, engine oil (including gearbox oil, power-steering fluid, and shock absorber fluids), hydraulic oils (clutch and brake fluids and synthetic oils), and alcohol-based fluids (coolant and windshield-wiper fluid). Once the tanks are in place, three or four work stations—each capable of processing up to 30 vehicles a day— can feed into them. The product is certified to meet ATEX regulations on equipment used in potentially explosive environments. Crow makes one modification to its product for the North American market: “The depollution plant itself is the same across the world, but for U.S. sales we use a heavier lift than we would use in Europe,” Pinner says. “In Europe, we use a 3.2-ton lift, and in the U.S., a 3.6- or 4-ton lift because utility vehicles tend to be bigger in America.” The company has systems installed across the United States and Canada. Visit www.crowenvironmental.

Iron Ax. The Enviro-Rack is “the first and only portable, fully self-contained fluid-removal system on the market,” the company states. Forklifts place vehicles on the elevated racks; then adjustable funnels, some with compressed-air-driven drills inside to reduce leaking, collect fluids and distribute them to separate tanks for oil, gas, transmission fluid, and coolants. The rack itself is light enough to be moved by forklift. Enviro-Rack complies with U.S. EPA and state regulations for fluid removal by ensuring no fluids touch the ground, according to company representatives. The tiltable rack hovers over a 249-gallon catch pan set within a 360-gallon tank. A single operator can drain most cars in as little as five minutes, the company states. Visit

SEDA Environmental. “We don’t rely on gravity to get the job done,” says SEDA’s Hoeher. Instead, SEDA’s systems, refined over the past 25 years, use a combination of suction and air pressure to remove 98 percent of all liquids, he says. SEDA claims more than 3,000 customers in more than 40 countries. The company offers U.S. customers four basic systems: the EasyDrain Fluid Evacuation System, which can be paired with any rack; the EasyDrain Evacuation Station With Working Platform, which includes a tilting rack; the Mobile Drainage Rack, designed for any location and on any flooring; and the Rapid Quick Install, which has one pump set designed to serve two vehicle racks. Drainage of up to 70 cars per station per day takes from 6 to 8 minutes each, including miscellaneous steps such as removing converters. Prices range from $10,000 to $45,000. Visit

Superior Recycling Solutions. Auto dismantler Gary Beagell of Gary’s U-Pull-It (Binghamton, N.Y.) designed the SRS Fluid Recovery System. In contrast with some other systems, “it is not meant to be portable,” Brechko says. “It is a permanent fluid recovery system with a patented tilt-and-roll rack.” The SRS Upper Suction System’s high-speed pumps connect to Rapid 45 air-activated “pistols” with colorcoded nozzles that drain top-end fluids such as antifreeze and windshieldwasher, brake, and power-steering fluids. Operators then poke holes and cut hoses underneath so fluids drain into a catch basin and feed via gravity down to an oil/antifreeze separator. “[That] keeps it simple,” Brechko says. Best suited for larger yards but easily customized to suit most applications, she says, an SRS system with a double-sided rack, separator, and upper suction system is about $118,250. Visit

Theodore Fischer, September/October 2008 Scrap Magazine -